St. Pete approves stadium expansion for MLS bid using actual private money, maybe

Voters in St. Petersburg overwhelmingly approved Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards’ ballot initiative for an $80 million expansion of Al Lang Stadium on Tuesday, moving ahead plans for a potential MLS expansion bid. Edwards has promised to fund both the expansion to 18,000 seats and the $150 million expansion fee, so really there was nothing for voters to worry abou—

The referendum, which won approval with 87 percent of the vote, will allow city officials to begin negotiating a 25-year lease with Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.

Noooooooooooooooooo!

Okay, it’s not so bad: There’s no guarantee that Edwards will try to get concessions on the back end — free rent, the city paying maintenance and operations costs, some kind of upgrades slush fund — on the back end, or that the council would approve such a lease if he did. But it’s important to remember that subsidies are increasingly being hidden in lease deals, in part precisely because they’re negotiated out of the public eye, so, you know, keep your public eye on this.

Anyway, add Tampa Bay to the list of metro areas fighting for an MLS franchise, and at least they did it without pouring tons of up-front cash into it like some other cities have been asked to do. That’s something, at least, and a valuable reminder that the sports industry can survive just fine without subsidies, if the level of public interest in the sport is low enough that subsidies are hard to come by. Apparently the Care Bears got it backwards!

Every concentration of humans on earth now bidding to build MLS stadiums

Nashville is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and Indianapolis is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and San Diego is looking to get a new MLS stadium, and Detroit is considering providing free land for an MLS stadium, and St. Louis is still looking to build an MLS stadium after rejecting it once, and a guy in Charlotte is still looking to have an MLS stadium built for him, and Tampa is looking to get an MLS franchise but already has a stadium.

These are mostly terrible ideas, notes the Guardian, at least where they involve public money. And if the newspaper slightly overstates the case that there’s growing pushback on MLS subsidies (truth is, they’ve never been an especially easy sell as sports subsidies go, mostly because MLS isn’t as popular yet as the Big Four sports), it does contain a classic defense of them from Peter Wilt, the Chicago Fire founder who now heads later headed the Indy Eleven NASL team and wannabe expansion franchise:

“It is about image and plays into making a city cool to live in, a good experience for young professionals, and reducing the brain drain on a community. Things like that are sometimes not taken into account. If Oakland loses the A’s and the Raiders, which is a possibility, then no one will hear about Oakland in any positive terms for the foreseeable future.”

Things like that actually are taken into account in economic studies of teams and stadiums, which overwhelmingly find that if sports teams make cities “cool,” it doesn’t show up in things like per-capita income or jobs or economic activity or tax receipts. Plus you’d then have to explain how a city like Portland, for example, which until recently had only basketball as a major-league sport and famously turned down a domed stadium in the 1960s that would have brought an NFL team, nonetheless became one of the hippest cities in America. (It has MLS now, but the hipness predated that.)

Anyway, with MLS set to announce four more expansion franchises in the next year or so, the league can probably count on some cities stepping up to throw money at new stadiums, so long as they’re not too picky about which ones. (Cincinnati, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, and San Antonio are also in the mix.) Bulk-mailing extortion notes is kind of a strange business model, but hey, whatever works.